A longtime local company ventures into new areas, such as wireless Internet connections.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
SHARPSVILLE, Pa. -- Cattron Communications is spicing up its 56-year-old company, which is widely known as a provider of two-way radio systems.
High-tech offerings such as wireless Internet connections and wireless security cameras are part of what's changing at Cattron, which began in 1946 as Motorola's first service station for two-way radios.
"We're bigger and better than we were," said Dan Mihalcak, who took over as vice president of operations 18 months ago.
The company's core remains providing communications equipment to area police and fire departments, which make up about 60 percent of its business.
Mihalcak said, however, that the company is cracking open new growth opportunities so it doesn't stagnate.
One area that's starting to fuel growth is Internet connections. Cattron has been working since the beginning of the year with Infinity Online of Sharon to reach out to businesses that need high-speed connections.
Several major customers, including Sharon Regional Health System, have signed on to the system, which provides large bandwidth with minimal installation work.
Infinity Online, which is owned by Bill Richards, makes the initial contact with customers, and Cattron comes in and handles the technical work.
Signals bounce between businesses and a tower in Masury that covers all the Shenango Valley, but the sales effort will expand to other areas, Mihalcak said.
Closed circuit TV
Cattron also is improving its closed-circuit television offerings, which its customers use for security.
It offers a new wireless video system that is mounted on a lightweight 20-foot aluminum tower, which can be installed anywhere on a company's property. The camera is operated with a remote control so the lens can be trained in any direction.
Cattron is working jointly with its sister company, Cattron-Theimeg, for other ways to blend Cattron's communications business with the sister company's specialty of remote controls.
They are working on specifications for another company that is developing a robot that would be used in police raids. The robot would have a video system operated by remote control.
They also are talking to a government agency about developing a similar system that would be used by a bomb-disposal unit.
Cattron mainly resells products made by Motorola and other companies, while Cattron-Theimeg makes remote control units that are sold all over the world. Both are based in Sharpsville and are part of Cattron Group.
Other new products for Cattron Communications include its own line of batteries, headsets for two-way radios and card-access systems for building entrances.
An in-house paging system has been installed at St. Joseph Health Center in Warren and at General Motors' complex in Lordstown. These systems require companies to pay the installation cost upfront, but then they own the system and don't have to pay a paging company to operate it.
Even the company's traditional two-way radio business is changing.
New technology has been added to towers in Austintown and New Castle that allows customers to have dedicated channels so they are not competing with others for air space.
Plans call for the technology to be added to the company's four other towers in its local six-county service territory.
Mihalcak said the company is linking with other Motorola service stations so users can have expanded coverage for their two-way systems.
Cattron has lost some of its two-way radio customers because of cellular phones, but many area companies still prefer radios, Mihalcak said.
With radios, companies can contact all of their units at once, and they don't have to pay for airtime, he said. Also, cell phones don't work in all areas.
Besides new and better products, Cattron also is trying to grow through improving its service and sales efforts.
The company has gone from having two service technicians a few years ago to five.
Its Boardman service center was moved to a larger location on Southern Boulevard, which soon will be staffed with someone at all times during business hours. Later, its Warren service center will be staffed with someone to handle customer pickups.
In sales, a pilot program just started calls for manufacturer's representatives who have been selling Cattron-Theimeg products around the country to sell Cattron products as well.
That way, a customer who is buying remote control products may also buy batteries or other supplies for their two-way radios.
Mihalcak said the company is changing so much that it has drawn up new promotional brochures that stress its variety of products.
"I don't like to go to a customer and say, 'We are the same old Cattron,' because we're not," he said.